Family - Parents Quietly Succeeding - Family and Step-families

Family and Step-families

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The proportion of people who are getting married is going down in many countries across the world. In recent decades there has been a decline in global marriage rates, and at the same time that there has been an increase in cohabitation, states Estaban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser in Our World in Data 2020.

In part 1 we explored the roots of our non-monogamous behaviour, family and marriage, in this post we conclude by looking at some facts about family relationships covering: love, money, underwear and hook up culture.

Family and Divorce Rates

With their hairless bodies, big brain and ability to emote, the new arrival swiftly began to manipulate stone and fashion metal.

And these efforts culminated in cities, behind fortified walls, that made the world less predatory…more predictable…more safe. In these new centres, women no longer feared being taken to be placed in the neighbouring king’s harem.

And as cities developed, characterized by streetlights, policing, mass consensus, legislation, law, industry, science, ethics, religion and moral codes etc, these levels of fear were further reduced. 

In this dramatic and continuing rebalancing and shift, women begun to enjoy more; choice, openness and freedoms, as they are no longer tied to oppressive males for; food, money, shelter and protection.

Conversely for men, these changes meant their actual and immediate presence (in the family and home), was no longer needed. What they offered, what they were, was no longer esteemed (even scorned), as key functions were outsourced to technology, laws and new ways of being.

And now today, if put somewhat bluntly by the Washington Post, women have, “…no practical need for husbands who don’t make them happy.”

Of course there are many legitimate reasons for divorce centred around: communication, abuse, sex, addictions, money, infidelity, lack of commitment (the list goes on).

However, as given in The UK Law Society since ‘no fault divorce’ become available, in the UK for instance, this category has been the biggest reason cited for requesting divorce.

This is of deep cultural significance for it acknowledges an uncomfortable idea; love comes and love goes.

That said, not all is lost as more and more people choose to cohabit, a structure we have seen in part I, that predates; law, the church and god and outlined by Samatha Hickman in Family Law.

Love Money and Family

Since the emergence of heightened emotion in the naked ape marriage and having a children, have become established markers of maturity, adulthood and citizenship.

In fact, based on this new capacity without ticking these boxes, we can be led to feel a sense of personal failing and a life incomplete, coerced by quotes such as, ‘it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all’, or ‘love conquers all’.

Now this might be true and maybe it does – arguably however romantic love and marriage has been massively fuelled, and perhaps in the process distorted by economies, giving this structure far more prominence than is due.

Aided by the media (TV, film, advertising), ‘capitalist’ markets have co-opted; love and marriage and reduced family to a base consumer unit. 

Consequently, as the family is the end destination for a fair deal of what economies produce, (mortgages, household goods, cars, insurance, holidays, electronics etc), economies themselves, heavily invests in projecting the idea of ‘happy’ families.

So much so, in the face of the cultural powerhouses of; the economy, religion and the media, the allure of family and the ‘big day’ has become so deeply ingrained, more often than not, we are drawn back to repeat the process…social conformity.

In the US for instance Goldman Jones calculate the average time to remarry after divorce is 3 years.

However, whilst economies champion the modern family, it does so at the expense of the family because far from this image, confined in our boxes and behind drawn curtains we are anything but happy.

Critical thinkers like RD Laing offers a darker view of the modern family describing an intense, violently destructive environment where members form and dissolve alliances in a war where each member rails against the other.

So constructed in its form and function, he argues, the modern family is a significant contributor to mental illness and specifically cites schizophrenia.

As you would expect, children especially, do not fare well when families dissolve, and their otherwise healthy emotional and psychological development is severely compromised. 

According to The Step Family Foundation

  • Only 45 percent of children “do well” after divorce.
  • 41% are doing poorly, worried, underachieving, deprecating, and often angry.

Children and Families

Dominated by our new emotional capacity, when love goes, we don’t cope well. We’re often taken off guard demanding, ‘how could this happen, (to me)?’ while experiencing a range of white hot, super charged feelings of hurt, blame, rage, stress, revenge, pride, to name a few. 


Well, from the point of view from which we are arguing we have simply not yet learnt how to manage or balance the conflicting output of our truly mammoth brain and emotional capacity. 

Unlike wildebeest for instance who only seconds after experiencing the ultimate stressor, move on. Generally speaking they don’t need to talk, lie down or loose their appetite. 

Wildebeest don’t stress. 

Yes, we’re stretching the point, they do, but they don’t hold on to it for too long. 

Not so the naked ape. 

The unique gifts that is our brain and emotional faculty are so new, so powerful, we too easily overthink…too easily feel…and all too quickly, too deeply.

As a result, we may know what to do but struggle to do it and in this turmoil of recrimination, pain and fear, where our thoughts and feelings collide, children are bruised. 

Parents provide’s the following breakdown

0-3: cry, want more attention than usual, regress, thumb-sucking, develop a fear of sleeping alone at night

3-6: uncertain feelings about the future, keep their anger trapped inside, have unpleasant thoughts or ideas, nightmares

6-11: anger express in fighting, lashing out against the world, anxiety, become withdrawn or depressed.


The stepparent is of course not organic to the family structure and where it attaches a weak point is formed, no matter how strong the join. 

Despite this if undertaken sincerely, even under considerable pressure, this point can and will hold. And it will need to.

In their legitimate pain, in their conscious and unconscious wish to punish the parent they are left with, as well as, the stepparent, children and young people can lash out cruelly making such unions fraught with difficulty.

The first law of life however cares only that enough of the species are born, sorting comes later as other social and evolutionary processes decide who and what features it will take forward. 

So, what can we say here?

  • Children first and foremost, always.
  • Know why you’re there, why are you in that relationship? Why, at this time, are you in any relationship? Is the relationship mutual?
  • Know your limits. You will experience; self-doubt, varying degree’s of acceptance and rejection, micro aggressions and exclusion. Do not return fire, repeat, do not return fire, (see point 2 and read on).
  • Don’t rush anyone, anything or yourself.

Step-parenting is tough and you’ll need ‘big boy pants’ for sure but in saying that the rewards of successful step-parenting (on both sides) appear to be richer and more appreciated. 

This is because we are hardwired to care for our own biological off-spring. On the other hand, step-parenting is a self sacrificing and generous choice to perfect another human being.


OK, so families, look and function the way they do for a host of reasons but particularly because they are one of the best places to raise the young and marriage attempts to stabilise this union.

These smaller units with clearly identifiable adults would bare offspring that would be exclusively their responsibility. Such smaller sizes mean resources can be more tightly focused at one end to reduce infant mortality and at the other end used to extend life.

And as a strategy it’s working, for the naked ape are the longest lived of all primates, (overall married / partnered people live longer). 

This is the restless first law of life at work, willing itself forward in a thousand different forms, experimenting with various structures, through which it can live to die another day. 

It does this over millennia; restlessly probing, collapsing and reforming, constantly asking what that structure should look like.


From our distinctly non-monogamous origins to where we are now, we are…a work in progress and family and the form it takes will no doubt continue to be played out on a truly epic scale across unimaginable time.

And we are at but a single point in that ever-evolving arc.

We would perhaps genuinely like to do things better; be monogamous and commit for life but figures suggest we, not all, by any means are struggling.

  • Monogamy and life long pair bonding can be seen as an experimental event, birds do it better 
  • Marriage was never designed to hold loving families. It originated as a functional device and as these functions are outsourced or superseded by other structures, marriage has become redundant, families collapse and divorce rates increase.
  • Emotion is not a strong enough reason for marriage. It’s right up there but relationships need more…after all, ‘what’s love got to do with it.
  • Not enough understanding, acceptance of who and what we are, fundamentally.

Thus, according to Belgian-American psychotherapist Ester Perel, at this point in that arc, we attempt ‘serial monogamy’. 

Today, modern societies massive take-up off ‘hook up culture’ via dating apps and social media platforms, both expresses and perhaps reminds us of our true underlying nature.

This is not a comment on social media, for the same is true of cinema. A year after it was invented (Paris France 1895) we used it to watch sexualised imagery of other people (Le Coucher de la Mariée 1896). It’s part of us and has always been there.

Is any of this bad…? 

Well, that depends coupled with the growing trend to cohabit; love, family and marriage do appear to be on the cusp of another deep significant revision…the unremitting first law of life.

Pure Realism

To embrace such realisms, we will save ourselves untold pain and no longer abandon our children to popular culture and the search for romantic lifelong monogamous love, especially within marriage. 


While it could be argued the modern family and marriage are somewhat fabricated institutions, when they work, they do. Family units, significantly increase the chance of producing emotionally and psychologically stable off-spring and therefore societies.

So, at the heart of this dilemma lies the question…how do we go all in and commit whilst anticipating failure and collapse? 

…tall order

  1. Children first and foremost, (always)
  2. Realism — understand (deeply) love comes and love goes not always…but it can so don’t lose yourself, ever. Death ends life not relationships (Mitch Albom).
  3. Ego is the enemy. Don’t allow false pride to drive action.
  4. Understand where social conformity ends and what you want, begins. 
  5. Don’t rush. Know thy self. You are more than enough and all you need.  


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Guys a couple of important points…

  1. Anthropologists are always digging up new old bones leading to re-classification and re-dating. This makes date certainty, uncertain. So, for accuracy, we’ve concentrated on the overall sweep of accepted human development.
  1. Other than broad general advice we highly recommend if you need relationship advice, reach out be brave…good luck!
  1. This was written from a very definite point of view, deliberately leaving out our psychology and spirituality and other aspects of our make-up that go into shaping us; our cultural and personal histories, social policy, legislation and technology etc, that further define and influence how we behave. As such we could have gone in many different directions as we’ll be returning to many of the points we’ve only just been able to touch upon here.
  1. It’s important to note — marriages and families are subject to external forces and so: during peace time, marriages and families look and behave very differently as it does during war. Marriages and families in rural communities behave differently to marriages in the city, as do faith-based marriages and families, look and behave differently to secular marriages — as they are all further affected by the age at which people marry matter etc. What’s more in each of these settings the picture of love and marriage is changing, (see 5).
  1. This is a broad comment on industrialised Judeo-Christian capitalist societies and what’s happening there. However trends occurring in that particular corner are not confined to those regions or people as globalisation, (for better for worse), ensures these values circulate and penetrate the globe.

Over to you…

What do you think…comment below? 

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